Bright light on hori­zon for SA tex­tile in­dus­try

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - Joseph Booy­sen

SOUTH Africa’s cloth­ing in­dus­try has strug­gled over the past two decades with em­ploy­ment num­bers drop­ping. How­ever, with the ar­rival of dig­i­tal tex­tile print­ing, the lo­cal tex­tile man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try is set for re­vival and could sal­vage job op­por­tu­ni­ties lost to China.

This was ac­cord­ing to Craig Whyte, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of dig­i­tal print­ing spe­cial­ists ArtLab. “Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est stats (Statis­tics SA), the lo­cal in­dus­try went from em­ploy­ing 200000 peo­ple in 2002 to a mere 90 000 to­day. The loss of jobs in this sec­tor has had sig­nif­i­cant con­se­quences, partly be­cause three out of ev­ery four tex­tile and cloth­ing work­ers are women.”

Whyte said for the in­dus­try to move from sur­vival into a more con­sis­tent growth phase, it needed a shot in the arm.

“We be­lieve dig­i­tal print­ing is just that. Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est re­search, the global tex­tile mar­ket is ex­pected to reach more than $1.2tril­lion (R15.62trln) by 2025. De­spite com­ing off a low base of 2per­cent of the to­tal tex­tile mar­ket, dig­i­tal print­ing is set to dras­ti­cally dis­rupt the tra­di­tional tex­tile in­dus­try.”

Whyte added that the ef­fect of the off­shoring of Cape Town’s tex­tile and cloth­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try could be seen in lo­cal neigh­bour­hoods.

“We’re based in Woodstock, where a lot of the in­dus­try was tra­di­tion­ally lo­cated. Over the past 15 years, we saw fac­to­ries shut doors and wit­nessed the ef­fect of these on the com­mu­ni­ties around us. For us, dig­i­tal tex­tile print­ing marks a re­vival of in­dus­tries re­lated to cloth­ing, up­hol­stery, soft fur­nish­ings, and more.”

He said the new tech­nol­ogy gives old ar­ti­sans and small busi­nesses a cost-ef­fec­tive way to re­vive their craft and im­prove their liveli­hoods.

“We’re try­ing to cre­ate a plat­form for the in­dus­try, there’s a strong sense of en­trepreneur­ship in what we’re try­ing to achieve.”

Whyte has in­vested close to R10mil­lion in new print­ing equip­ment over the past few years to bring dig­i­tal tex­tile print­ing to South Africa’s shores.

“We’re call­ing it re-shoring, bring­ing back some of the man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs that were a sta­ple of Cape Town’s busi­ness land­scape from Chi­nese fac­to­ries. By of­fer­ing higher qual­ity, rapid cus­tomi­sa­tion and a broad range of nat­u­ral and syn­thetic ma­te­ri­als, dig­i­tal tex­tile print­ing is also a cost-ef­fec­tive op­tion for brands and re­tail­ers, many of whom have trailed the tech over the past year and now putting in in­creas­ingly large or­ders,” he said.

He added that dig­i­tal tex­tile print­ing had al­ready helped re­vive Europe’s tex­tile in­dus­try.

“Large fash­ion brands such as Zara use dig­i­tal tex­tile print­ing to quickly de­sign, print and roll out new styles and fash­ion to their stores in an en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able man­ner. This al­lows them to stay on­trend with­out in­cur­ring the sig­nif­i­cant costs and po­ten­tial wastage of do­ing large-vol­ume print runs in China.”

Whyte said dig­i­tal tex­tile print­ing had none of the en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues associated with tra­di­tional pig­ment dyes, and uses a range of lat­est-gen­er­a­tion tech­nol­ogy to en­sure min­i­mal eco­log­i­cal im­pact.

He said the se­cret to re­viv­ing the lo­cal tex­tile in­dus­try lay in a com­bi­na­tion of cut­ting edge tech­nol­ogy and close col­lab­o­ra­tion between the var­i­ous in­dus­try role play­ers.

“We’re invit­ing key stake­hold­ers in the lo­cal tex­tile in­dus­try to trial the new tech­nol­ogy.

“Since print runs can start from as low as one me­tre, there’s no real bar­rier to en­try for new and ex­ist­ing cloth­ing and tex­tile man­u­fac­tur­ers to see how it can speed up their pro­duc­tion, un­lock new busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties and hope­fully spark a re­vival of a on­ce­proud lo­cal in­dus­try.” – joseph. booy­sen@inl.co.za

PHOTO: CINDY WAXA

Con­server Fa­tima Fe­bru­ary shows In­de­pen­dent Me­dia some of the items in the 12 000 tex­tile col­lec­tions at the Iziko So­cial His­tory cen­tre in this file photo. Dig­i­tal tex­tile print­ing of­fers a new life span for the tex­tile in­dus­try in the coun­try.

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